Valerie Carter is worth remembering…

It’s hard to know what to say about Valerie Carter, the singer-songwriter who died in March of this year, at the too young age of 64. Probably the best way to describe her career, is as one of those woulda/coulda/shouda situations. The nearest she got to having a hit record was when her cover of “Ooh Child” played over the closing credits of the bonafide cult classic of suburban teen ennui from 1979, “Over the Edge”. Her career focus was mainly singing back-up for people like James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, while occasionally contributing songs to other artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire. She recorded 2 promising solo albums in 1977, and 1979 respectively, the first of which was produced by her musical soulmate, the late Lowell George of Little Feat…but after those releases, it was literally crickets in terms of her solo output : she didn’t release another album until 1996.  Her time in between was spent touring with the aforementioned James, and Jackson, and providing backing vocals on a myriad of albums, by other artists. The biggest of the latter, was soft rock flamingo Christopher Cross’s self-titled debut album, which sold 5 million copies and was the Grammy Album of the Year in 1980. And so while a lot of people were exposed to her beautiful, soaring, full of longing voice on the album’s duet “Spinning”…they didn’t necessarily register that it was her, Valerie Carter, sublimely lifting it off the ground ( and she totally does, listen above), they were just, you know, playing the Christopher Cross album, and basking in it’s west coast sunset glow ( by the way, it’s a pretty nice glow, and no one should be embarrassed for liking it, so go on then, bask).

It appears the last years of her life were challenging, as she battled substance abuse issues, got arrested twice as a result in 2009, and was ultimately sent to rehab. Yeah, it’s sad, but know what, she was an incredible singer, in possession of a truly transcendent, and soaring voice, and she should’ve been famous, and she died too young, and it’s not too late to discover, and give over to the loveliness she offered, because damn, she was just so great. Take a listen….

Mr.Husband “Riding a Lightning Bolt”

There are so many beautiful things about this loving nod to the Beach Boys, and Big Star, it’s hard to know where to begin, but we’ll keep it simple. Gorgeous tune. Swoon-worthy vocal hook. Beauteous guitar crescendo in the bridge. To summarize, it’s the living embodiment of a California sunset, and nearly impossible to take off repeat.

Swimming Girls “Tastes Like Money”

Like a pop-infused “Heaven or Las Vegas”, the first single from Swimming Girls, is one lush, and heavenly wall of sound, with a languorous, and handsome little chorus that is nearly impossible to evict from your head once you’ve heard it.

Bono loves Billy…

I wonder sometimes how it feels for Ian McCulloch, of Echo & the Bunnymen seeing Coldplay soar to global domination using the Echo sound blueprint so flagrantly. Chris Martin has always openly acknowledged his worship, and the two have worked together,  struck up a friendship, and so on, but as Ian spoke so often back in the day of being the “greatest band in the world”, I’ve always wondered if it secretly irked him seeing Coldplay rise to such extreme heights, serving up their more palatable version of the Echo sound.

That scenario always brings to mind for me, the creative connection between 80’s weirdo pop maestros, the Associates and the the universal behemoth that is U2. Billy MacKenzie was the eccentric, outrageously gifted singer in the aforementioned Associates, and with the exception of the geekier music fans of a certain age, it’s pretty unlikely that the average U2 fan has heard of him, or his band…yet there is a pretty distinct, and clear influence of Billy onto Bono, which the latter has spoken about in the most reverential and loving terms, going so far as to provide the foreward to Billy’s posthumous biography, The Glamour Chase”, by Tom Doyle from 1999.

No one sounded like Billy. It’s generally acknowledged that “Sulk”, from 1982, the third Associates album, was the peak of their artistic achievement, and it is without a doubt their most consistently pleasing record. It’s plastic operatic pop, all over the top yearning, and crooning, and chorus’s.

Billy was a victim of his own gift. His voice was so otherworldly, and transcendent, that providing a suitable, and ideal background for it to shine, was a challenge. Fact is, once he began his solo career post-Associates, the quality of the songs on offer were not equal to the quality of the voice, making for some spotty releases ( which is a tribute to how great the Associates were of course). This is not to say there weren’t moments of  true jaw-dropping beauty along the way ( check out “Baby” above), just that the standard established with the Associates , proved impossible to maintain as his career, post band, moved forward.

Check out the links above to hear Bono read his foreward to Billy’s book aloud, and listen to Billy do his thing with the Associates, and on his own ( his live rendition of “God Bless the Child from ’84 is ridiculous), and listen to them rubbing up against U2 ( just 1 quick example). There’s a lot of love in what Bono is saying, and no matter what you think of him ( Self righteous ? Pompous? Insufferable?), his reverence for this glorious boy is pretty beautiful…and you can still hear it to this day, every time he opens his mouth to sing to the enormous crowds at these U2 shows, which is the coolest thing of all.

This is Asha Lorenz…


Can’t remember how I stumbled upon Asha Lorenz a couple of years ago, but no matter, she’s been a pretty staggering discovery in these parts. For the past year, I’ve had her songs both solo, and with her band Fish (now known as Sorry, I believe), bookended in a playlist with Au Pairs, X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene solo stuff, as well as some Shara Nelson, and Martina Topley-Bird …don’t know why, she just sounds so right surrounded by those straight to the heart, intense, moody, and sometimes screamy beauties. There’s a DIY quality, to both her solo work, and her band stuff, and a genuine timelessness: it’s all pretty exceptional. The tracks above are an overview of old, and more recent things, and there’s loads more to explore on her Soundcloud page, so definitely encourage you to check it all out.

It’s I, Smiley Culture…

Damn, these are so great. David Emmanuel was better known as Smiley Culture, and was responsible for couple of absolutely classic singles, in 1984 and ’85  : “Police Officer”, and “Cockney Translation”. Both are brilliantly infectious, and feature some truly clever, and pointed social criticism in their colorful, candy Reggae wrappers. They respectively managed to hit #’s 12, and 71 in the UK charts, but falling short of # 1 is no reflection on their enduring wonderfulness: they are just pop, pop, pop, both of their time, and timeless. Smiley died under mysterious circumstances in 2011 ( lots of info around regarding this , so encourage you to take a look)…but right now, want to look up, and pay tribute to these amazing confections.


Cheerleader “Feel Like That”

This song, by Philadelphia’s Cheerleader, has a severe inferiority complex, and doesn’t want you to forget it’s alive okay. Since it expresses all it’s wonderful insecurities within the catchiest, singalong-iest, and most infectious of surroundings, that ain’t likely.

Shhh “Bed”

This is pretty sparse, and raw, in fact, it sounds like a demo…but it’s also in possession of   a memorable little hook, and features a nice vocal that sits somewhere in between  Chrissie Hynde, and Beth Orton ( odd but true). Very promising…

Koalas “Home Heart”

Admittedly one of the first things that came to mind upon hearing this was T’Pau’s “Heart  and Soul” ( 80’s cheese classic), which is no bad thing. And the crooning at the end of the track brought to mind Simon LeBon ( Duran Duran) saving prayers ’til the morning after. And so to summarize, this is a pretty fine slice of fat 80’s style synth pop, that tips it’s hat to all the right places, and faces.

Blessings from the Beach Boys…

Here’s a geeky question for you. Ready ?.. because I’m telling you it’s really geeky… okay, so what would your “dream band” sound like ? The one that would encapsulate everything you love in the musical universe in every way ? Vocals, sound, songs, everything.

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I love hearing people’s answers to this because they are usually weird, awesome, and distressing all at the same time. I’ve sadly spent many waking hours pondering this question, out loud even, and came to the realization that my mythical band would sound something like Chaka Khan, or Gladys Knight fronting the Beach Boys circa 1966-1973. It shouldn’t surprise that I’m still waiting for this unicorn to arrive.  Okay, I had a false alarm a few years back when Laura Mvula first came onto the scene. She had the voice, and there were some Brian Wilson-esque flourishes production-wise on her debut LP, and my childish hopes were raised for a second…but no, as sweet as it was in parts, it just wasn’t it. And so, in the interim, I’ve  had to make do with other stuff . Maybe “make do” is a bad way to put it, as there are some beautiful, singular songs that have surfaced over the years, that have been touched by that Wilson genius ( not just Brian’s, but Dennis’s too), proudly wear their hearts on their sleeves, and are completely wonderful, and cool, and worth getting lost in.

Here’s a playlist called, “Beach Boy-esque”, and I ask that you forgive me on that title. It’s been in my I-Tunes with that name for ages, because basically, that’s what every song in it is. It’s full of tracks that have that influence, that feel, that signature Wilson thing, and sound great on headphones, long drives, or during crying sessions ( basically all the normal activities Beach Boys music is utilized for in life). There are some truly beautiful things out there, so have a listen, and hey, if anyone out there has any recommendations, I wanna know a.s.a.p. !

Click on the link below for the playlist:

p.s. I wanted to include songs from Lewis Taylor’s “The Lost Album”, which is basically the sound of a one man British-Soul-Beach Boys, and is gorgeous. It isn’t on Spotify or YouTube as of this writing, but here’s a pic, and I highly recommend tracking it down: it’s amazing.

lewis taylor lost cover